The Isle of Man’s sea and shoreline are home to habitats and wildlife of significant importance, including rocky reefs, kelp forests, maerl beds, bird nesting sites and sea caves that provide a home to a mass of marine wildlife. The Isle of Man was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere in 2016 in recognition of its special environment, culture, heritage and economy.
The Isle of Man has 10 Marine Nature Reserves (MNR) which cover 430km2 and were put in place to protect the animals, habitats and important fisheries found on and under the waves. We have listed the 10 MNR here as we believe they offer a great opportunity to responsibly connect with nature and spot some great animals.
The 10 Isle of Man MNRs below are shown in clockwise order starting at Douglas on the east coast.
1. Douglas Bay Marine Nature Reserve
Douglas Bay MNR is 4.6km2 and located next to the island’s largest town and port. Protected habitats include rocky reefs, kelp forests, maerl beds and spawning grounds. Animals you may see include great cormorant, common shag, beaumonti nudibranch, harbour porpoise, European eel and bottlenose dolphin.
2. Little Ness Marine Nature Reserve
Little Ness MNR is 10km2 and extends from Douglas Bay in the north to Little Ness in the south and is overlooked by Marine Drive which provides a great spotter location. Important habitats include horse mussel reef, maerl beds, cliffs, nurseries and spawning grounds. Animals you may see include horse mussels, spiny scallops, various sea birds, European eels, whales and dolphins.
3. Langness Marine Nature Reserve
Langness MNR is 88.67km2, the 3rd largest MNR and extends from Santon Head in the north to Castletown Bay, including Derbyhaven which is the island’s only intertidal mud habitat. Protected habitats include rocky reefs, kelp forests, maerl beds, eelgrass beds and intertidal muds. Animals you may see include basking sharks, common and grey seals, risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise, wading birds, European eel, dog whelk and Iceland clam.
4. Baie ny Carrickey (Port St Mary) Marine Nature Reserve
Baie ny Carrickey MNR is 11.37km2 and extends from Black Head in the north to Scarlett Point, in effect the whole of Port St Mary Bay. Protected habitats include sea caves and stacks, rocky reefs, kelp forests and eelgrass. Animals you may see include basking sharks, kittiwake, guillemots, puffin, razorbills, risso’s dolphins, harbour porpoise, and grey seals.
5. Calf of Man and Wart Bank Marine Nature Reserve
Calf of Man & Wart Bank MNR is 20.15km2 and is an isolated area at the south of the island with strong currents. The Calf of Man is also an official British Bird Observatory, with 30+ species of birds breeding here annually and others passing through on migration. Protected habitats include sea caves and stacks, rocky reefs, kelp forests and sandbanks. Animals you may see include common and grey seals, risso’s dolphins, crayfish, sand eels, minke whales, peregrine falcons, puffins and Manx shearwaters.
6. Port Erin Bay Marine Nature Reserve
Port Erin Bay MNR is 4.5km2, a westerly facing bay that often acts as a funnel for the wind and waves from the Irish Sea. Protected habitats include rocky reefs, kelp forests, brittlestar beds and plaice nurseries. Animals you may see include bottlenose dolphins, basking sharks, fulmar, shag, stalked jellyfish, Iceland clam and herring gull.
7. Niarbyl Bay Marine Nature Reserve
Niarbyl Bay MNR is 5.66km2 and extends from Niarbyl in the north down to Bradda in the south. Protected habitats include rocky reefs, kelp forests, sea caves and intertidal blue mussel beds. Animals you may see include grey seals, Iceland clam, shag, fulmar, basking shark, harbour porpoise and lesser black-backed gull.
8. West Coast Marine Nature Reserve
West Coast MNR is 185km2, the largest of the Isle of Man marine nature reserves. Protected habitats include rocky reefs, kelp forests, intertidal blue mussel beds and soft sediment. Animals you may see include basking sharks, blue mussel, European eel, various seabirds, harbour porpoise, sand eels, grey seals and bass.
9. Ramsey Bay Marine Nature Reserve
Ramsey Bay MNR is 97km2 and extends from the Point of Ayre in the North to Maughold Head at the southern end of Ramsey Bay. Protected habitats include maerl beds, eelgrass meadow, rocky reefs, kelp forests, horse mussel reef and sea bass nurseries. Animals you may see include horse mussel, bottlenose dolphin, arctic tern, European eel, sea bass and Iceland clam.
10. Laxey Bay Marine Nature Reserve
Laxey Bay MNR is 4km2 and is one of the smallest MNRs on the island. Protected habitats include maerl beds, eelgrass meadows, rocky reefs and sandy seabeds. Animals you may see include minke whales, Iceland clams, bottlenose dolphins, various seabirds, masked crab, salmon, sea trout and European eel.
Whilst Grey and Common Seals, Harbour Porpoise, Peregrine Falcons, Elder and Mallard Ducks can be spotted all year some species can’t be, you can use the below as a [very] rough guide to availability:
- Risso’s Dolphins – mostly summer
- Basking Sharks – mostly summer
- Guillemots – summer only
- Minke Whales – May – October
- Gannets – March – October
- Fulmar – March – October
- Bottlenose Dolphins – mostly winter
All visits need to be made responsibly as the wildlife you want to experience is as the word says “wild” and disturbance may impact their lives. The result of direct or indirect interaction with people can’t be underestimated and can change the behaviour of an animal or change the habitat.
We would recommend taking an organised trip operated by an experienced local guide who will show you some of the best spots for wildlife watching whilst balancing the least impact on the wildlife and habitat.
Additional Protected Areas
In addition to the MNRs the Isle of Man has a 20+ Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs) and a Ayres National Nature Reserve (NNR) which help to protect areas of land but also intertidal zones.
You can get the DEFA and Manx Wildlife Trust’s illustrated downloadable wildlife spotter sheets and MNR guides from the gov.im site.
For more information on wildlife or to support the Manx Wildlife Trust please visit their website at mwt.im.